In hindsight, considering how obvious the deficiencies in this Chelsea squad seemed, the transfer policy of the club over these past two transfer windows has been unpredictable to say the least. Rewind to the beginning of August and I’m pretty sure that nobody foresaw the sale of Juan Mata. Likewise, I don’t think it would be presumptuous to assume that the last minute signing of Willian (after his medical at Tottenham) and the re-signing of Nemanja Matic took the majority by surprise. As did Mourinho’s novel solution regarding Ashley Cole’s decline in form, to reposition Cesar Azpilicueta – and to such remarkable effect.
Recent history would suggest making predictions on our future transfer market dealings is a fairly pointless activity, then. But surely, it cannot be contested or denied, that if we’re to improve and progress to a stage where we are the equal of any side in England on paper, a world-class centre forward is an entirely necessary addition. What is up for debate however, is what constitutes a world-class centre forward, who in Europe qualifies and (most importantly) who is available? The following is a countdown of, in my opinion, the top 10 centre forwards in world football, along with an analysis of their prospects of joining Chelsea in the summer.
10) Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich)
While the world has been writing and raving about the prospect of Robert Lewandowski leading the line for Bayern Munich next season, the Bavarian’s Croatian forward has been making a decent case for keeping his job beyond the summer. After excelling at Euro 2012, Mandzukic joined Bayern last year and was fairly magnificent, not only in his goal scoring but in his work rate and his pressing of the opposition also. As a physical presence up front he was invaluable for Bayern, especially in the Champions League against Juventus and Barcelona. In spite of some impressive stats however, the Croat’s main weakness as a striker is that he rarely creates opportunities for himself, relying on the service of his teammates primarily in order to find the net. He also has a reputation for being arrogant and easily agitated
Could he sign for Chelsea? With Lewandowski on his way and Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze both viable options for Pep Guardiola in attack, Bayern would doubtless be open to decent offers. Whether he’s the type of forward Chelsea need is debatable. Likelihood of happening: 6/10.
9) Gonzalo Higuian (Napoli)
After three years of being rotated with Karim Benzema at Real Madrid, the Argentine has done an incredible job in replacing Edinson Cavani at Napoli, contributing a similar amount of goals and proving his own versatility in the process. At Madrid he was expert in linking play with his clever runs to make space for Di Maria and Ronaldo in particular; for Rafa Benitez this term however he’s proven himself as a pure and direct number nine and as a solo attacker. He seems to have added an extra yard of pace to his game also – or maybe at Madrid he was just never given the chance to use it.
Could he sign for Chelsea? Reports seem to suggest that the player is enchanted with Naples and very much committed to his current club. It would take an extraordinary bid. 2/10.
8) Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund)
After announcing himself on the world stage with one of the all time great individual performances against Real Madrid in the Champions League last year, the Dortmund striker has only continued to rise, despite having been destined to leave his current club for the past year or so. Identified by Bayern and Guardiola as the man to tactically complete their side, few would argue the Pole is one of the most gifted all-round forwards on the planet.
Could he sign for Chelsea? Given he’s already signed for Bayern, no. 0/10.
7) Robin Van Persie (Man United)
I guess it would be safe to say the Dutchman hasn’t enjoyed his second season in Manchester as much as his first, where his goals practically won the league title. Having been one of the best forward players in England for the last eight years, as a #10, a false nine and now a pure CF, it seems his career is finally on the wane. He remains however, arguably the best pure finisher in the country.
Could he sign for Chelsea? It seems he has become disillusioned at Man Utd under David Moyes and I expect him to leave at the end of the season, with Mata and Rooney the future of the club. Whether United would sell to Chelsea is certainly in doubt, given his age and injury record, he may not represent the profile of striker which Mourinho is targeting either. 4/10.
6) Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)
Horrible to watch when he’s rolling needlessly on the floor, but wonderful to watch when he’s on the ball, Costa is simultaneously one of the most impressive and frustrating players in world football. Lethal in front of goal and remarkably unselfish with his running, the Brazilian born Spaniard can also be quite wasteful and single-minded in possession. He is also however one of the most accurate strikers in Europe, a battler and a natural counter attacking forward, who always seems to excel against the bigger sides.
Could he sign for Chelsea? YES, YES, YES. For all the reasons above, Costa is the ideal striker for Chelsea. Consider also his release clause, Atletico’s financial position and their existing relationship with ourselves due to Courtois’ arrangement, I’d say this is a lot more than possible. 8/10.
5) Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
In the age of false nines and increasingly universal forward players, Falcao is perhaps the truest and pound for pound, the best pure #9 in the world. Immaculate with his movement and ruthless with his finishing, the Colombian’s move to Monaco last year was a strange one as he enters the prime years of his career. His current injury which will most likely see him miss the World Cup is also a terrible shame.
Could he sign for Chelsea? Jose Mourinho’s ‘off-the-record’ comments certainly didn’t rule it out. The suggestiveness of the statement ‘Chelsea need a striker and Falcao needs a team’ remains open to debate. He would be an exceptional acquisition, though his price tag is a mighty stumbling block. 5/10.
4) Edinson Cavani (Paris St-Germain)
Having arrived in Paris this summer as the most expensive signing in the history of French football, and as the top scorer in the Serie A, PSG’s use of the Uruguayan forward this year has been slightly weird. Moved over to the right wing to make space for his more pretentious strike partner, Cavani has gone about performing a crucial role for his side despite being used in a less favoured position. Whilst maybe not as gifted a goal scorer as Falcao, it’s this selflessness and versatility that makes Cavani the better player in my opinion.
Could he sign for Chelsea? Unless he becomes totally disillusioned in his supporting role at the Paris club and we make a monumental offer, there’s really no chance of him being sold this summer. 2/10.
3) Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Only injuries and a lack of a defined role in Man City’s team are preventing Aguero from becoming the best striker in the world. Even with all the fitness issues and the constant changing of position from out wide to the hole to the #9 spot, the Argentine’s goal scoring record in Manchester is incredible. (73 goals in 113 games). Over the next few years I’ll think we’ll see a fascinating battle between Aguero and Hazard to become recognised as the PL’s most inspiring talent.
Could he sign for Chelsea? As the key attacking player for our main rivals? No chance. 1/10.
2) Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
The most exceptional individualist the Premier League has seen since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, Suarez’ form earlier this season was truly frightening. Since his arrival he has been rightly acknowledged as a tireless worker and a wonderful all-round forward, and although, like Diego Costa, the Uruguayan can be selfish and wasteful in possession, the recent improvement in his finishing and decision making has taken him to that next level. He is now a bona fide superstar in world football.
Could he sign for Chelsea? If Liverpool miss out on the Champions League again then he could prove difficult to keep hold of. The fact they would command at least £60m and likely interest from Real Madrid means we shouldn’t get our hopes up, I’m guessing. 2/10.
1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris St-Germain)
A complex character, to say the least. The Swede may be imperiously self-obsessed, but there’s no denying his genius. Few sportsman have earned the right to brag which Ibrahimovic exploits at almost every occasion. No forward in the world has such a beautifully varied and spectacular catalogue of career goals to look back on, with the PSG forward equally adept at stunning long rangers, as he is at extraordinary over-head volleys as he is at tap-ins off the back of a 40 yard dribble. No forward can boast his record of success across the continents either – when PSG win the league this season, it will be Zlatan’s 10th title in 11 seasons (although his two with Juventus have been revoked). His opinion that the World Cup won’t be worth watching due to his absence might be excessive, although it is close to a fact, this summer’s tournament in Brazil will be missing the sport’s number 1, number 9.
Could he sign for Chelsea? Mourinho and the player have expressed mutual admiration in the past. Given his age and status as the prize asset of one of the richest clubs in the world, it unfortunately looks close to impossible. 0/10.